Jessie Fleming: Olympic champion says "belief was always there" for earning gold

Jessie Fleming

In the summer of 2021, a year after the Tokyo Olympics were supposed to take place, Canada made history.

Led by national hero Christine Sinclair, the Canadians saw off all the competition to take their place at the top of the podium with their first ever Olympic football gold medal.

Midfielder Jessie Fleming speaks to GiveMeSport Women about being part of the historic achievement in Tokyo.

At just 23 years of age, Fleming has two Olympic medals in her cabinet, one bronze and one gold. 

She was just 18 when she flew to Rio to represent her country in the 2016 Games, playing her part in Canada's third-place finish. She admitted it wasn't long afterwards that whispers started to circle the camp about upgrading their bronze medal to the most prestigious international title.

Jessie Fleming

"Following the World Cup [in 2019], that’s where the language kind of changed and we talked about winning the Olympics for years.

"We weren’t able to train as much as a group [during Covid lockdown] and there was a bit of hesitancy and we started to question whether or not we could do it. But we had a good build up, got a couple of good results in some friendlies and we were confident – we grew a lot throughout the tournament.

"The belief was always there, but it certainly helps once you’ve gotten out of the group stages and past teams like Brazil. All of that brings confidence."

After finishing second in the Tokyo 2020 group table, Canada went on to beat Brazil on penalties before eliminating rivals USA in the semi-finals. 

It all boiled down to facing trailblazers Sweden in the grand final – a side who had conceded just three goals and hadn't dropped a single point ahead of facing Canada.

Fleming was on song for her country – cancelling out Stina Blackstenius' first half goal with a crucial spot-kick in the 68th minute. Thanks to the 23-year-old's equaliser, the match would stay level and eventually head to penalties, where Fleming once again kept her composure in the box.

Jessie Fleming

It was a nerve-wracking experience, even for the neutrals. But the Canada star has revealed how she dealt with the huge pressure of the occasion.

"To be honest, I think part of me was trying to remove some of the emotion and some of the buildup that’s given to big games like that. As a team, we just wanted to go out there and not have any regrets in terms of how we played.

"At the end of the day, it’s just another game. It’s kind of weird to think of it like that but I think me treating it a little bit like that helped me ease into the match."

Canada Women

The penalty shootout ended 3-2 in favour of Canada. Some show-stopping saves kept the drama on a knife-edge but it was Julia Grosso who tucked away the winning penalty and secured the gold.

"I don’t think it’s the way anybody wants to win a game," Fleming reflected. "I’m not a big fan of penalty shootouts, but ultimately that’s how it was decided and it was very nervy.

"It was probably one of the lowest scoring penalty shootouts I’ve ever been a part of. I feel like everyone was just exhausted and obviously there was a lot of emotion and nerves tied to that."

But no matter how it happens, every win is a win and this victory was one for the history books.

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Fleming already has 90 caps for her country and will be looking to bank many more in the coming years. Her composure and icy cool exterior on the international stage has made her a mainstay in the Canadian national set up.

The only destination for the 23-year-old is a career dripping in gold if she continues on such a remarkable upwards trajectory.

"It’s helped me develop and grow as a player," the midfielder said of her time with Canada so far. "The national team has always been a really positive place for me."

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